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A six-year-old tribal boy from Aarey Colony died within four hours of a snakebite Wednesday even as his parents ran from one hospital to another seeking treatment. The loss of the golden hour, often termed as critical to save lives, was lost in an autorickshaw as the family first waited on a narrow diversion road following partial collapse of the Aarey bridge and later, in a Jogeshwari hospital for want of an intensive cardiac care unit (ICCU). The Class II student was finally declared dead at Dr RN Cooper hospital in the evening, four hours after a cobra bit him on the left leg. Until he was brought to the civic-run hospital in Vile Parle (West), four hours since he was bitten, the boy had been given no antidote.
Raj Zhop, from Vanichapada in Aarey Colony, was playing with local boys behind his hut Wednesday afternoon when he was bitten by the snake. According to his mother Lata, he had gone to pick up a stone where a snake lay hidden against the rear wall of the hut. As soon as he was bitten, his family tied a cloth on his leg to prevent the poison from spreading and ran to get an autorickshaw.
The nearest hospital, the Aarey Hospital, is a five-minute walk from Raj’s hut. On Wednesday, there was not a single vial of anti-snake venom at the hospital. The family then decided to go to Hinduhruday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray Trauma Hospital in Jogeshwari that took them an hour to reach. “When Mumbai was flooded on August 29, the only bridge connecting our area with the main city collapsed. We took a diversion but that road is full of traffic,” said the boy’s father Ramesh Zhop, a daily wage labourer. According to locals, the six-year-old had been kept at the hospital for two hours before doctors said they had no ICCU facility and that they would have to refer him to another hospital.
“Until then he was alright. He could speak. He told us exactly how the snake bit him. But after doctors opened the cloth we had tied, he became unresponsive,” said neighbour Dilip Jadhav. The boy was put on oxygen support and taken to Cooper hospital in an ambulance. “I saw his eyes close. He stopped responding. Five minutes after we reached the hospital, a doctor told me he had passed away. He said even if we came half an hour ago, our son would have been saved,” Ramesh wept, as his two elder children huddled around him in their hut. The post-mortem report suggests the boy succumbed to snake poison. According to Jogeshwari trauma hospital’s medical superintendent Dr Shashikant Wadekar, an anti-snake venom (ASV) could not be given to the child because of a possible reaction, called anaphylaxis, which requires intensive care support to stabilise the patient. The hospital has no intensive cardiac care unit.
“The reaction could lead to cardio-respiratory failure. So we decided to shift him. Primary treatment was given to the child,” he said. On the allegation of infection spread, he said doctors had to remove the cloth around his leg to allow blood circulation. “Otherwise it could lead to amputation,” he said.
While Jogeshwari hospital has 45 ASV vials in stock, it has been rendered useless for children aged below 12 years because of no ICCU infrastructure.
The Aarey hospital, which already faces an ownership dispute between the state government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, has no ASV vial available for over a year. Last request for vials was made six months ago to the Aarey Development Board. The hospital has only one doctor, effectively meaning that there is no medical staff present to cater to patients after duty hours end in the evening. “We also feel helpless when snakebite cases come. Apart from primary treatment and pain relief, there is nothing more we can do,” said a doctor.
Locals in Vanichapada said another person, a 25-year-old woman who lived near Royal Palms, died this year due to snakebite and delay in treatment. “She has a six-month-old son,” said Niki Gamre, a local resident. Aarey Colony has witnessed 17 snakebite cases this year. Laxman Mahale, a local tribal, said, “In emergency cases, we don’t even have transportation facility to hospital.” BMC Assistant Commissioner Chanda Jadhav said, “We will have to reconstruct the bridge. Work orders have been issued but it will take four months for the road to be opened.” In case of snakebite deaths, a compensation is offered by the respective governments in West Bengal, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Maharashtra has no such provision.